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EDITOR’S NOTE: In next week’s Herald Times we will provide similar interviews with candidates for the Meeker School Board.
RANGELY I On this fall’s ballot there will be a number of questions impacting Rangely schools. In addition to the funding efforts of 3A and 5A there are two school board seats up for election. One incumbent and three new candidates—Sam Tolley, Jason Cox, Casey Ducey and Bart Nielsen —have stepped forward to run. The following are excerpts of brief conversations conducted with each candidate regarding the attributes of the district, school funding and the role of the board.
Casey Ducey decided to run for the school board to become more involved in the district and better understand the education system. Ducey said he hopes, “to understand the challenges our school system has been facing. I have two kids and I wanted to get more involved.”
Ducey believes that the people are the strength of the district. “That includes teachers, coaches, parents and the community,” he said.
Ducey, who supports the mill levy efforts on the ballot this fall, believes a lack of funding is both the biggest weakness and biggest threat facing the schools. He says his response to the funding issue as a board member would be to support more local funding efforts. “Living in a small community we are forced to rely on local funding if we are going to be forgotten by the state. I believe in Rangely first,” he said. He also views his potential role of school board member as, “Looking out for the students, making decisions on school programs, and ensuring our tax dollars get spent appropriately.”
Incumbent Sam Tolley is running for his second term on the board following what he views as a number of victories. When asked what those successes were Tolley said, “Listening, learning and not judging the decisions made by those that sat on the board before me, trying to help our superintendent to make our school the best we can with the resources available to us, not going in with a hidden agenda or thinking that we needed to change everything we were doing before I got on the board, being supportive of our students and staff, and always trying to do what is best for the students.” Tolley says he believes the district is headed in the right direction and that he’d like to help continue down that path.
Tolley also believes that the students and staff of the district are RE-4’s greatest attribute. “The willingness of our students to learn, combined with our staff’s ability to inspire our students not only to learn, but to become life-long learners are our greatest strengths,” he said.
However, Tolley also sees the limits of what the district is able to provide to the community. When asked about the greatest weakness of the schools he responded, “Being limited on what we can do to provide the greatest opportunity to our students, because of budgetary constraints.” Tolley expressed clear frustration with the lack of funding in the district, saying, “I was against the School Finance Act back in the early ’90s, which essentially took away our local control of funding and gave it to the state. Then the state was allowed to give money back to us as they saw fit. The negative factor is a fancy term for an IOU that they (the state) will never pay us. We have been told to quit whining about this IOU, because we are never going to get this money. We were told that if we need more money than we need to get the money ourselves. That is why 3A and 5A are so critical to keep the school district on the current path. We can’t depend on the state.” He concluded by saying, “It may be time to re-consider our representation at the state level.”
Tolley believes that the passage of 3A and 5A can help mend the budgetary woes. “While I do agree that taxes are the price we pay for us to live in a civilized society, and as much as I dislike unjust taxes, I fully support both 3A and 5A. This is a way that we (the community) can help to fund the school district and keep us going down, what I believe is, the right path.
Because we can only depend on ourselves, not big brother.”
Jason Cox says he decided to run for the school board to, “be a positive influence on my children and to do my part at making the school system the best it can be for all our children.” Cox believes that there are many important aspects of being a school board member and that teamwork is vital. “Members must work together to make the best decisions for the district and community as a whole. With everything going on in the nation and state we can not allow education of our youth to fall short,” he said.
Similar to the other candidates Cox is concerned about the lack of funding from the state. “Oh boy, ‘negative factor’, don’t get me started,” he said. “It’s flat out robbery by the state. Let’s stop and think about that for a second, over $3 million since 2010! For a school system our size that is a significant and even debilitating amount of money. We all know Colorado will continue down this path and the odds of getting the School Finance Act rewrote are slim to none. That brings us back to why 3A and 5A are so important.”
Cox passionately argues for support of both mill levy efforts, which he calls crucial. “We as a community must take care of our children and educators alike. For the small amount of property tax increase per household (under $60 a year on a $200,000 home for both) there is no reason for both not to pass. We can not just standby and let the system endure more budget cuts causing it to be more shorthanded. We also must give our children the opportunity to compete in athletics. Sports are a positive outlet for students and help them prepare for life after school. I proudly have a yes for 3A and 5A sign in my front yard,” he said.
Cox also mentioned concerns about declining enrollment, age of facilities and hiring and retaining educators. However, it’s not all doom and gloom for the candidate. “Life is full of threats but if we stick together we’ve got a better chance,” he said. He also praised district staff describing them as RE-4’s greatest strength and saying “this is where the rubber meets the road”.
Bart Nielsen has been active in the school district for years and is hopeful he can increase his service to Rangely’s youth by sitting as a school board member. He believes that the job of a board member is to, “be responsible for keeping the local school on track, setting goals and a direction, and holding the staff accountable for the goals.” He believes that as part of a team he can help the board fulfill these goals.
Along with the other three candidates Nielsen is hopeful that both mill levies will pass to help alleviate some of the budget constraints currently impacting the district. If elected, he also plans to address the problem head on. “I will fight to change it. I will pursue a way to keep Rio Blanco tax dollars for the schools in Rangely and not divided up for other schools out of our county,” he said.
Nielsen would also like to address what he sees as one of the main weaknesses impacting the school district, community involvement. “It’s the same handful of people that always donate their time and/or money for everything. We have to get creative in finding ways to get more people involved,” he said.
He also thinks it is vital to keep the district’s eye on the ball, improving academic achievement. “There’s room to improve our academics,” he said. “After all, that’s what we’re really there for.”
According to Nielsen, Rangely schools also have a lot to be proud of. “At sporting events I always hear from people that we have the nicest facilities, and that they are clean and well kept,” he said. “It takes a great staff to make that happen.”